Catch This

11 Characters or Less: Naming Apps for the iPhone

We love our clients. Twice in the last month we’ve been asked by different clients to develop product names for iPhone applications – which we’re only too happy to do, as we’re all Mac addicts here, and three of us have iPhones. There are two distinct challenges: one is coming up with the actual application name, and the other is coming up with the label that sits under the icon. Both names need to work together, be distinct from other apps already out there, relate to the “full” application product name (if there is one), and – oh yeah – the label can only be 11 characters long. Catchword does those names with our eyes closed and one hand tied behind our backs.

Let’s look at some of the apps on my iPhone. Here’s an actual screenshot of my actual iPhone. In addition to the native iPhone apps, I’ve got 6 third-party apps on this page, the most recent of which is Cisco WebEx Meeting Center, a mobile version of the web-based conferencing platform. The actual app name is way too long, so Cisco chose to shorten the label to just one word – “Meet”. They were able to draw on the widespread recognition of the WebEx logo to bypass the company name and even the product name: WebEx is so strongly associated with meetings that they didn’t need to put it in the label. That one word, “Meet”, is a great call to action and the core of the Meeting Center. I think it’s brilliant. (It also won a Best of Show award at MacWorld.)

In contrast, we have the iProRecorder, which is a fantastic application, but kind of a clunky name. (I keep getting it wrong when I tell people about it…iPodRecorder? iPhoneRecorder? iProSomething?) It’s exactly 11 characters, but I wonder if they couldn’t have chosen a better name or just a better label, like “Record”.

iBart is the obvious product name choice for a BART app, something no Bay Area commuter should be without. It’s short, to the point, and the friendly BART icon reinforces the message. Note that iBART wasn’t actually developed by BART, but by two guys from the Bay Area who were presumably tired of waiting for BART to get its act together. Thanks, guys at Pandav!

Finally, there’s Fring, a new app I just downloaded. It’s a service that allows you to access things like Skype, MSN Messenger, ICQ, Google Talk™, SIP, Twitter, AIM & Yahoo – essentially allowing you to chat and make free VOIP calls if you have a wifi connection. I’m kind of amazed that Apple let this happen, because if you allow free Skype calls (or really cheap Skype Out calls), why do you need the phone part of the iPhone? In any case, I’m still trying to figure out the name. It seems to be a contraction of “freedom ring”; in fact, “fringing freedom” is the office tagline. They also call their users “Fringsters” (good luck with that catching on). The word “fring” is a little too close to “fringe” for me, plus there’s a restaurant in Oakland that serves fries + onion rings as a side for burgers and calls it “frings”. Maybe they were trying to follow the example of Ning, another name that never really caught on. But the app is really cool – and, Fring is less than 11 characters!

By the way, I have a lot of other apps on my phone, but do you really want to know that I play Cowabunga (9 characters) because I like the funny mooing sounds that the cows make?

All trademarks & logos are the intellectual property of their respective companies and hereby acknowledged.

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Posted: Thursday, January 15th, 2009 at 11:23 am

Laurel Sutton

Veteran naming strategist and co-founder of Catchword
  1. Ryan

    I could be wrong, but I have apps on my screen with 13 characters – ex. “Rollercoaster” – is that new? BTW – iProRecorder has 12 characters – you said 11 – not sure if I can help you there :)

  2. Laurel Sutton

    Oops, can’t count.

    Turns out that it’s not the actual number of characters that matters, it’s the space they take up on the screen. So letters like “w” and “m” take up more room than “l” and “i” – hence a name like “Rollercoaster” gets to squeeze in a couple extra characters because of the “l”s and “t”. Crazy!

  3. trish

    Great article, thanks! Working on a cool new “designer” wine tasting app. Great for experts and for the novice that wants to learn how to taste and talk about wine. Tutors you through a complete tasting and then produces not only a numeric score for you but a very cool “bloom” visual that actually speaks to your wine rating. Soooo, what to name this thing. The team is at odds. Some want to name it something totally irrelevant, others want a more descriptive name. Is it boring and not cool to call it what it is. ie) Bloomtaster, Winebloom or something like that??

    • Laurel Sutton

      Trish, it’s not boring at all to call it what it is! How many people will even bother to look at your cool app if it has a totally irrelevant name? Do you have millions of dollars to explain why your wine tasting app has a name that has nothing to do with wine? Your best bet is to cut to the chase and tell potential customers exactly what they’re getting. Always be sure to check that no one else is using the name, though! You don’t want to get sued!

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